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MTA Beefs Up Station Security

Updated surveillance, bomb-sniffing dogs and more staff training mean `we are a lot safer today than we were a year ago,' mayor says.

July 12, 2006|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

Doris Williams watched commuters board the Gold Line in Chinatown on Tuesday from a flat-screen color monitor on her desk many miles away in Willowbrook.

She zoomed in on a young man getting off the train, then panned the area around the platform, checking for safety violations and illegal activity.

"It's like a new world," Williams said, referring to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's closed-circuit television system, which was unveiled Tuesday.

She and other MTA staff used to monitor the activities around rail stations on small black-and-white screens filled with images from fixed-mount cameras.

Since the London bus bombings in 2005, the MTA has invested $9 million in security upgrades, including the new surveillance system. It also has added dogs that sniff out explosives and has trained more than 9,000 transit workers in detecting suspicious packages and people.

"We are a lot safer today than we were a year ago, without question," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said as he toured the MTA's Rail Operations Control facility.

The mayor, noting recent terrorists attacks on public transit systems in London, Madrid and Mumbai, tried to reassure L.A. commuters that they are safe.

"We are absolutely committed to doing everything that we can to protect the riding public," he said.

The media event coincided with Tuesday's rush-hour bombing of a commuter rail system in Mumbai that killed at least 190 people and injured hundreds more.

Villaraigosa, who pushed for added security as chairman of the MTA, demonstrated the new system as cameras from several television stations swarmed around him. He stood before the wall of 25 big screens, filled with images of passengers waiting for the train, climbing escalators and paying for tickets. Some screens were split, showing 16 camera views at once.

With the mayor calling the shots, MTA staff zoomed a close-circuit television camera on a middle-aged man waiting for a train at the 7th Street station in downtown Los Angeles. The patch on the man's cap identified him as a Vietnam veteran. In his pocket was a red bus schedule for Line 117.

"We didn't have cameras that could do this last year," Villaraigosa said, crediting the MTA for shuffling money in its $3-billion budget to pay for the system.

Hundreds of new video cameras that tilt, pan and zoom have been placed in all the stations along the Red, Blue, Green and Gold lines, with as many as 14 in a single station.

They also have been installed in subway cars on the Red Line, and there are plans to put them on all trains by the end of the year.

About 94% of the MTA's buses also have new cameras, which are similar to those used to identify and help capture the bombing suspects in London last year.

All the images are recorded onto compact discs that are kept for 14 days; the ones that show accidents or crimes are kept longer.

With the old system, the MTA had a few bulky video recorders and, if staff members "saw something, they had to slip in a tape," said Daniel Lindstrom, the systems manager.

So far, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has solved 20 robberies using the digital recordings as evidence, said Cmdr. Dan Finkelstein, head of transit security for the MTA. He said he hopes to further update the MTA security system with the latest technological advances, including face-recognition software.

Tanesha Somms, 16, of Los Angeles hopes the new cameras will reduce crime. In recent months, she said, she's seen a fight and a violent purse snatching on the Blue Line.

"It would make you feel safer," she said, as she waited for a bus to Compton to visit her grandmother.

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